Anime Watchlist is ComicsVerse’s anime recommendation series, where we spotlight some of the best lesser-known shows out there.
When shonen anime end, new ones take their place. Most of us move on to what’s new, but some shonen series are so unforgettable that we can’t help returning to them. For me, that series is BAKUMAN by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata. In the span of 13 years, I’ve watched many shonen series — from DRAGON BALL to FOOD WARS! — but none have ever impacted me as greatly as this anime. BAKUMAN is far from your typical shonen anime. It’s not about growing stronger or fighting evil. It’s about chasing your dream and staying determined, even when you have a 0.1% chance of success.
BAKUMAN follows the journey of Moritaka Mashiro and Akito Takagi, two talented middle schoolers who team up to become the best manga creators in Japan. Moritaka has another reason for completing this goal: his crush’s hand in marriage. Miho Azuki, an aspiring voice actress, has agreed to marry him the day his manga becomes an anime and she plays the heroine. To follow their dream, the boys take their work to Shonen Jack, a manga publisher. However, getting published is a very difficult endeavor and they’ve got a long way to go to reach the top.
From Best-Selling Manga to Cult Classic Anime?
After their success with DEATH NOTE, Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata created BAKUMAN for Weekly Shonen Jump, and the manga became a best-seller in Japan and America during its 2008 to 2012 run. After the manga’s success, J.C. Staff created and released the anime, which ran from 2010 to 2012. However, the first season of 25 episodes was met with mixed reception.
Half of the fans complained because the anime stretched out the chapters of the first four volumes, creating a slow pace for a shonen series. While the other half enjoyed how the anime took time to richly explore the characters and their circumstances, creating a compelling comedy-drama. In addition, the animation quality seemed a bit low budget and annoyed fans who enjoyed the stunning artwork from the manga. BAKUMAN season two and season three greatly improved in animation and pace, but by this point, it had lost its chance to be popular. Luckily, to this day, BAKUMAN still has hardcore fans who praise the anime and it’s rated pretty highly on MyAnimeList.
Overall, BAKUMAN’s anime didn’t have a great run, but that doesn’t mean we should move on. The main issue wasn’t the anime, it was the way it was released. With a weekly release per episode, a slow-paced anime doesn’t do as well. Some people appreciate a slow burn, but some want each episode to be as exciting as the last. However, now that the entire three seasons are available, BAKUMAN is worth picking up again!
Part of what makes BAKUMAN so interesting is the main cast of “Team Fukuda.” Team Fukuda is the name given to the newest rookies at Shonen Jack by their most outspoken member Shinta Fukuda, a talented manga artist that constantly speaks against the unfairness in their industry. Each member varies in age, personality, and creative style, leading to fascinating conversations and interactions that are fun to watch. Yet, while all of them are exceptional characters, four stand out the most.
Moritaka Mashiro and Akito Takagi
Moritaka and Akito form the team of Muto Ashirogi. Muto Ashirogi is a combination of their names and Miho’s, which they use to hide their identities and remember their goal. When we first meet Moritaka, he has become listless. As a kid, he dreamed of becoming a manga artist, but the death of his uncle — a manga artist who died from overwork — caused him to abandon this dream. In comparison, Akito, a talented writer, is his total opposite.
Akito is full of ambition and dreams of becoming a manga writer, refusing to let anyone else control his life. As a child, his mother tried to coerce him into becoming a bank executive after his father lost his job; however, Akito rebelled and from that day on decided that he would choose his career. Thus, when he discovers Moritaka’s artistic talent, he decides to team up with him. And together they follow the path of a manga creator.
Another member of “Team Fukuda” is Eiji Niizuma, the antagonist of BAKUMAN and the boys’ number one rival. Eiji is a genius. He’s been drawing manga since he was 3 years old and has won multiple awards for his work. This level of talent earned him a series debut in Shonen Jack well before finishing high school. However, Eiji isn’t your typical antagonist; he’s actually quite funny and lovable.
Though he’s the best of the rookies, his personality is that of a big kid’s. He wears the same clothes, listens to extremely loud music, and makes sound effects while he draws. One of his funniest moments is when his editor Yujiro Hattori comes to pick up the first chapter of his new series YELLOW HIT. Earlier when they spoke over the phone, Eiji told Yujiro that his first chapter was finished. However, when Yujiro comes to collect the chapter, he discovers that Eiji has been drawing for CROW, not YELLOW HIT! He only assumed Eiji was drawing for YELLOW HIT, so it’s a hilarious moment of realization. It gets even funnier when Eiji refuses to draw YELLOW HIT at all, saying, “I don’t want to!” Yujiro and the editorial department are forced to go with CROW.
Eiji also has a great relationship with the boys. He’s confident in his skills, but he isn’t arrogant enough to demean them for not being as good. Instead, he recognizes their talent and tries to help them when they’re struggling. This kindness motivates them to improve quickly and work harder to beat him to become the best.
The fourth member of “Team Fukuda” that stands out is Takuro Nakai. Takuro isn’t the funniest or the most likable, but he does have the most compelling story. At 33, Takuro is a veteran manga assistant who’s failed to create his own series. By this point, the staff of Shonen Jack consider him a lost cause and won’t even look at any of his new work. Takuro is about to give up on his dream, but then he meets Moritaka. Seeing Moritaka’s determination to get a series frustrates him because Moritaka is so young, but it also reignites his passion and gives him hope to try again. With a smile, he tells Moritaka, “I’m going to get my own series too. I’m not going to end as a mere assistant, I promise you that.”
Getting a series still isn’t easy for Takuro, but with renewed determination, he pushes himself harder than ever before. You can’t help but root for him to succeed.
Another part of what makes BAKUMAN so great is its character’s determination. As a shonen anime fan, I love watching characters push themselves to the limit and go head to head with their rivals, and BAKUMAN delivers that in spades.
From the editors to the manga creators, rivals go against each other in a battle of skills and wit. Editors at Shonen Jack compete for promotions by choosing the best manga creators, while the manga creators push themselves to beat the competition by coming up with exceptional stories and art. These battles get even more thrilling because of high stakes. If a manga doesn’t get a high enough ranking (usually one of the top 10), it risks cancellation. And if an editor doesn’t produce a hit within three years, they’ll lose their job. In addition, the results are unpredictable. The readers of Shonen Jack, their biggest judges, determine the fate of their manga. Thus, every time a manga creator submits something, it’s a gamble. Because of this, Moritaka and Akito’s journey to the top is fascinating to watch.
An Emotional Roller Coaster
However, the boys always have more to worry about besides rivals and cancellation. BAKUMAN is known for being an inside look at the manga industry and it doesn’t hold back the punches. This realistic outlook leads to shocking drama and plenty of unexpected twists as the boys learn how difficult it is to produce a hit.
A Difficult Life
The anime covers a lot of painful points of a manga creator’s career, from struggling to come up with new ideas to feeling inferior to other creators, but one of the most excruciating and realistic is the boys’ struggle to adjust to the manga creator life.
Manga creators dedicate their life to creating manga; thus, they have limited time for anything else. In bad cases, this can lead to overwork and stress. In worst cases, this can lead to karoshi, translated as “overwork death.” Karoshi is a huge problem in Japan and, in the BAKUMAN manga, Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata illustrate the seriousness of it through Moritaka and Akito’s struggle to survive the industry.
J.C. Staff’s anime depicts this well. At first, the boys feel okay, dedicating time to their manga after school and finding time to eat and sleep. But as the demands of their editor and readers get higher, working becomes a physical and mental strain. And it’s not just the overwork that causes issues, each of the boys has their own huge problem to work through as well.
Moritaka’s Personal Struggles
For Moritaka, it’s his art. Though he’s talented and learns quickly, he’s still far behind the talent of professional manga artists. A professional manga artist needs to be able to create an artistic style of his own that others can’t copy. For Moritaka this is extremely difficult. In addition, manga artists have to be able to crank out their art at an extremely fast rate without skimping on the quality. Thus, the only way Moritaka can catch up is sacrificing all of his time to practice. This exertion leaves little time for rest and puts an enormous strain on his body.
Akito’s Personal Struggles
On the other side, Akito’s struggles are mental. As the manga writer, Akito’s job is to come up with story ideas and create the storyboards (a rough draft of what a manga chapter will look like). Within a short amount of time, he has to come up with a good enough idea so that Moritaka can quickly draw it and meet the deadline. This tight time frame puts a lot of pressure on him, especially since Moritaka can’t start drawing until the storyboards are finished.
For the most part, Akito does well. He’s able to come up with multiple ideas a day and many of his ideas are layered and refreshing. However, the tastes of the Shonen Jack readers are so varied that it’s difficult to come up with a story that pleases everyone, or even the majority. In addition, it’s extremely hard for Akito to come up with an idea for a unique mainstream battle series — the most popular and highest ranked series in Shonen Jack — because he can only create ideas for a cult series (a series that’s enjoyable but doesn’t fit in the magazine). As the anime progresses, he gets better at creating story ideas to fit the magazine, but it’s nearly impossible for him to create a mainstream battle series. This inability vexes him because he feels like he’s standing in the way of achieving the Muto Ashirogi dream.
Moritaka and Akito are only human, so their struggles create some of the most jarring and painful moments in the anime. But, seeing them refuse to give up is incredibly encouraging and when they succeed it’s absolutely astounding to watch.
Another enjoyable, yet painful, part of the anime to watch is the up and down relationship the boys have with their editors. At Shonen Jack, manga creators want to create a popular series and editors want to help them succeed; however, both don’t always see eye to eye. This difference in opinion creates constant conflict between them.
For example, one of the biggest conflicts the boys face with their editor Akira Hattori is wanting to create a mainstream battle series. Akira thinks the boys are terrible at creating unique battle series, so he advises them to create a cult series. However, the boys know that they’ll never reach the top ranking with that kind of series and refuse.
The situation comes to a boiling point when the boys refuse to back down and Akira lays down the law: “If you’re unable to create storyboards that impress me in six months, then you’ll follow my direction. If you don’t succeed and still insist on going with a mainstream manga, I’ll quit as your editor!”
This scene demonstrates the lack of power the boys have as manga creators and the great risks they have to take. If they don’t succeed and remain stubborn, they lose a great editor. If they don’t succeed and follow Akira’s direction, they may never create a series that’ll rise to the top in Shonen Jack. This moment is just one of the conflicts the boys have with the editors at Shonen Jack, and as the story progresses, the risks only get higher. These intense moments keep you on the edge of your seat as you watch the boys risk everything for their dream.
Another compelling element of BAKUMAN is how it doesn’t just depict the struggles males face in their careers, it also spotlights the difficulties the female characters face. One of the most interesting examples is Yuriko Aoki, a former shojo manga artist trying to get a shonen series in Shonen Jack. Like the male creators, she goes through similar struggles — a strenuous schedule, difficulties with her editor, high competition — but she also has a unique conflict: she doesn’t understand boys’ manga. Thus, her artwork is unsuitable for the magazine and her stories are too targeted to female readers. Even when she gets a series, she’s constantly struggling to keep up with the male creators and has to resort to putting fanservice in her manga to keep it popular.
Another interesting example is Miho and her struggle as a voice actress. While Miho is incredibly talented, she quickly learns that new voice actresses are judged by their appearances over their talent. Miho is a beautiful girl, but being undervalued makes her feel frustrated. The situation becomes even worse when she gets an offer to do a risque photobook, a job that could boost her career or possibly end it if she turns it down.
Watching how these two, and the other female characters, handle these tough situations is inspiring and thought-provoking. It shows that BAKUMAN doesn’t just focus on its male characters, but gives equal attention to its females as well, treating them as people with their own stories to tell.
A Story You’ll Never Forget
Overall, BAKUMAN is an incredibly satisfying anime with great characters and plenty of drama and action to keep you entertained. It takes a few episodes to build up to the good stuff but once you’re there, you’ll be hooked. I highly recommend it and hope it becomes one of your favorites as well. You can watch all of the episodes for free on VIZ Media. BAKUMAN is also available on Hulu for subscribers. Usually, I’m ready to move on when a shonen anime ends. But this is an anime so powerful that, even when I reached the ending, I wished it wasn’t over.
Featured image courtesy of VIZ Media.